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Five things you need to know about volunteering

By Sarah Tsimelkas

As my graduation quickly approaches, I find myself contemplating what I will take away from my undergraduate years. How to use an electron microscope – check, how to write a 10-page essay in one night – check, just exactly how much coffee is too much coffee – check! I think you get the point. But in all seriousness, I really have learned a lot while earning my degree. But, there are some things that you can’t learn in a classroom. In a world where every job you want to apply for requires *minimum two years experience* it’s no wonder some students struggle to find work after graduation.

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So I am here to tell you the solution to this, and it’s really quite simple – volunteering! The best way hands-down to get real-world experience to complement your classroom knowledge is to volunteer. And what better time to start than this summer?

I started volunteering at Lakeridge Health about 2 years ago, and it is truly one of the best decisions I made during my university career. At the time, I was in the process of switching my program from Communications and Digital Media Studies to Health Science, and my experience interacting with patients at the hospital really is what made me know I was making the right choice. Lakeridge Health is an amazing place to volunteer, and they recruit volunteers every summer. They love university students and are really good at accommodating your schedule with semester changes. But, if hospitals aren’t your thing, there are numerous local volunteer opportunities that may relate better to your program.

Since I have been volunteering for a while, I have accumulated a little bit of knowledge on the subject, and I want to share this with you. The following are 5 things you need to know about volunteering (and these may convince you to take the leap if I haven’t already):

It looks really good on your resume.

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Okay, so this one might be a no brainer. As I said before, volunteering is the best way to acquire experience in a certain field. Also, if you are looking to apply to grad school, volunteering looks great on your supplementary application. If you don’t have job experience, volunteering demonstrates that you are dedicated and reliable. It also will allow you to develop and build on skills that you may not have had the opportunity to otherwise. For example, as part of my role at Lakeridge Health, I volunteer in the research department. Before starting, I thought I knew how to use Excel - was I ever was mistaken. However, through my time in the research department, I was able to learn and advance my skills in this area. Now I can actually be confident in including “proficient in Excel” as a skill on my CV.

It makes you feel really good.

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Not only does volunteering look fantastic on your CV, it makes you feel great! Knowing that you are making an impact in your community (or any community in need), is the best feeling that just cannot be described. You really need to experience it to know. At my volunteer training at Lakeridge, we learned that the best thing we can do as a volunteer is to welcome incoming patients with a smile… a smile, that’s it! It sounds simple, but it’s true. But as it turns out, it works both ways – patients put a smile on my face every day with their ability to maintain continued positivity, strength, and an unwavering sense of humour during difficult times. Furthermore, volunteering is good for your health. You only really reap the health benefits if you are truly volunteering out of altruism, so choose something that you really care about. Studies have actually demonstrated a link between volunteering and longevity. So my suggestion is to start volunteering now and never stop.

You have to treat it like a job.

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One thing that I have learned from volunteering is that places really rely on their volunteers. Yes, maybe you aren’t getting paid for your time, but if you want your volunteer experience to highlight your sense of commitment, you need to take it as seriously as if you were. This means showing up on time and giving advance notice if you are going to be away just like you would for work. Places that accept student volunteers know that school is your number one priority, but you also need to schedule your time wisely and acknowledge that volunteering is a commitment. That’s why volunteering in the summer is a great option, while you may have less responsibilities to worry about.

It will open many doors for you.

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I actually got my summer job last year because of my volunteer experience! I worked as a paid assistant to the volunteer coordinator at the hospital. It was such a great experience, which I never would have had if it hadn’t of been for volunteering. Additionally, I was able to participate in an observership with a physician at Lakeridge Health as we had met through my volunteer involvement with the research department. This is not to say that volunteering will guarantee you further opportunities, but with persistence and dedication, the potential is definitely there.

You will make great connections.

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When you volunteer, there is a good chance you will meet like-minded people that you may even develop friendships with. During my time as a volunteer, I have met so many people that are also students with similar goals as my own. We have so much in common, so it’s no wonder we have become friends. However, I have also met several people that I might not otherwise have had the opportunity to. For example, many individuals I volunteer with are retired – some have even been volunteering for 20+ years (wild, right?!). Like I said, under most circumstances, we might never have been given the opportunity in today’s society to form a friendship as we have.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, check out the following list of places around Durham that you could volunteer with: